Check imaging solutions have advanced rapidly in the six years since the Check 21 act took effect. Now, even the late adopters are selecting imaging platforms, and those that were early adopters are reevaluating their selections. The maturation of check imaging solutions resulted in a broad array of options to meet the individual needs of each credit union. Of course, with all those options come hard decisions. The first big decision to be made as a credit union evaluates its current distributed check-capture service or considers investing in one for the first time, is selecting the point or points of capture.
Front-counter capture–imaging items at the teller line in transaction mode–and back-counter capture–imaging items away from the teller line in batch mode–both have advantages to be considered. In fact, some credit unions benefit from blending both systems. Major factors to consider when evaluating these processes include:
• The total volume of transactions typically handled,
• The item count within normal transactions,
• Hardware and existing infrastructure,
• The credit union’s risk profile for negative check verification, and
• The expectations and responsibilities of the credit union’s teller staff.
Front-counter capture requires tellers to scan items in real time, as the transaction takes place with the member present. During this process each teller captures the image, checks for accuracy (including amount, MICR line completion and image quality) and completes transaction balancing. A strong check-capture solution that is integrated with the teller platform makes this process fast and easy to manage, freeing tellers from having to manually compute full transactions. Handling the process in front of the member allows tellers to deal with incorrect or incomplete information immediately, providing balanced transaction validation to the member. Additionally, a strong relationship management system gives tellers an opportunity to promote and cross sell based on specific member information while the checks are being scanned.
As far as supporting technology is concerned, an integrated teller capture platform requires a direct interface with the teller system, which is necessary to ensure efficiency. Also, credit unions implementing front-counter capture will deploy a scanner for every teller station. This can be a significant investment, depending on the branch infrastructure, but the pricing options for scanners have decreased dramatically over the years. Today, credit unions should be able to find the type of hardware that meets their branch and budget needs.
Back-counter capture occurs off the teller line, either near the teller line or in a separate branch office. It does not require an interface with the teller system and can reduce the number of employees that need to be trained on the scanning process. The system operates in batch mode, processing large volumes with a single capture flow. An employee performs required steps to complete the batch but only on necessary items. These steps could include some combination of recapturing image quality failures, completing required keying for amounts and MICR information and balancing the batch.
Smaller credit unions can benefit from back-counter capture because it may not require a significant monetary investment. For instance, a credit union with five branches in close proximity to each other may choose to scan its images at only a few of the busiest branches, thus only requiring a hardware purchase and software installation at those branches. By selecting a flexible solution, the credit union can then expand its imaging platform as desired.
Some credit unions choose to implement both front- and back-counter capture to maximize efficiency. This method can be useful for those credit unions that handle a consistent mix of larger commercial deposits from business accounts and typically smaller deposit retail accounts. The results offer both cost savings and a faster transaction time.
Other situations that benefit from a dual platform include credit unions using teller capture where they might still need back office capture for envelope-based ATM deposits, mail-in payments or loan and credit card payments.
Clearly, teller and back-counter capture both have benefits to today’s credit unions. In some cases, a mix of both is the best solution. Whichever the case, credit unions should evaluate their current situations and make sure that they are leveraging the best solution to meet their individual business needs. Both early adopters and latecomers need to evaluate all options.